Brandon Brown

Brandon Brown
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Family-owned Xfinity teams brace for long break

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Less than 24 hours after NASCAR announced it would not hold races until at least May due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Brandon Brown was trying to look on the bright side.

The 26-year-old driver at Brandonbilt Motorsports, a family-owned Xfinity Series team with shop locations in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and Mooresville, North Carolina, was discussing what the team would do until NASCAR’s scheduled return in two months.

“So North Carolina has our pull down rig,” Brown told NBC Sports on Tuesday morning. “So there’s plenty of time to go test. If they want to test a thousand different setups, then by all means, please do. We don’t really get a research and development team being a smaller organization. Now is the time to take advantage of what what we can.”

It was then that Brown was informed that due to “unprecedented events,” NASCAR had just announced a ban on all forms of testing not related to the Cup Series’ Next Gen car.

“Well, I guess we are not doing any research and development, so they’re going home,” Brown said, adding all that may be left to do is “put a car cover (on his race cars) I guess.”

The “unprecedented events” cited by NASCAR is COVID-19, which in less than a week has brought sports and the world in general to a halt. According to the Johns Hopkins University and Medicine coronavirus resource center, the virus has resulted in 5,853 confirmed cases in the U.S. and 97 confirmed deaths.

It’s also placed small teams in the Xfinity Series like Browns’ in a precarious position with likely no regular sources of income until its next scheduled race, May 23 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

“What do you think about something that’s never, ever happened to anybody in their lifetimes?” Tommy Joe Martins asked Tuesday morning from Las Vegas. “It’s just not something any of us could probably have been prepared for. So we’re just going to try to make the best of it.”

Martins co-owns and drives for Martins Motorsports, the Xfinity team that relaunched this year. Without prize money from races, which Martins said Monday night on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio’s “The Late Shift” comprises 80-85% of the team’s budget, it has to furlough its five full-time employees after the first postponed race weekend.

Martins said the team will likely keep crew chief Danny Johnson on part-time and try to help crew members file for unemployment.

“I’m of the opinion this is probably going to get worse for a while,” Martins said. “There might be some sort of a pause in domestic travel or some other things that fall out from it. … Whether you believe that it’s that serious or not, the reaction to it will be serious. It has been very serious and it will affect your life. I think that’s something I’ve taken away from it.”

The impact of the pandemic is hitting Martins on two fronts. Tuesday was his last day of work as a driving instructor at the Ron Fellows Racing School in Las Vegas. Martins said over the last few years he had built a financial cushion for himself that could leave him in a good spot for the next four to five months.

While Monday brought news of NASCAR teams sending employees home as a safety precaution, Brown said his team will try to keep the shop open for two, possibly three weeks.

“We survive on the purse money and we survive on sponsorships, but our sponsors are also struggling,” Brown said. “Parts of their businesses are getting shut down or told they can’t operate. Take for instance, our Daytona sponsor, Larry’s Lemonade. They own a bar and restaurant, but nobody’s going there right now. Without a good income, I wish I had a true deadline of what it’s going to be, but they’re discussing that now. It’s up to the team’s leadership. … But if I had to make a guess, two to three weeks and then we’ll probably be sitting at home.”

When it comes to his personal financial well being, Brown said, “I’ll do OK.

“It’s going to hurt quite a bit, because all of my income comes from working with sponsors and it seems to me right now that companies aren’t really focused on their marketing programs. So a lot of those got put on hold.”

In a teleconference Tuesday afternoon, NASCAR President Steve Phelps was asked what plans the sanctioning body had to financially help teams.

“Are we concerned about teams broadly and their financial health? Of course we are,” Phelps said. “We want to make sure that each of our teams gets through this, each of our stakeholders in the industry gets through this crisis as well as we all can.

“Lots of things on the table. No specifics at this point that we are prepared to discuss.”

Both Brown and Martins have other worries related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“For myself, I’ve had to take precautions a little extra serious because my younger brother, who had to come home from school (at James Madison University), he suffers from Crohn’s Disease, which is an auto immune disorder,” Brown said. “So I have to take it really serious because if I bring anything home, I don’t know what complications that could bring to him.”

Martins is thinking about his parents, who are both are in their 60s and live in Mississippi.

“They’re locked down for the most part,” Martins said. “They’re kind of the target age for this being really bad. My mom has rheumatoid arthritis, my dad’s really lived with diabetes on a very minor scale for a while now. My dad’s still very active and diabetes hasn’t really affected his life the way it affects a lot of people. But still, that puts him at a major risk for this. Just told him to be very, very careful. … Obviously, I’d love to be home with them, but honestly I just traveled over the last few weeks and the question that I have right now as a citizen is: ‘Do I have this?’

“Really, you can’t get that answer yet. So I’m just trying to be as careful as I can right now and I really don’t want to drive home and hang out with them just yet until we kind of know all the facts about this.”

Brandon Jones passes Kyle Busch to take Xfinity win at Phoenix

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Brandon Jones passed Kyle Busch with 20 laps to go and held on to win Saturday’s NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Phoenix Raceway.

It was Jones’ second career win in 141 Xfinity starts. His previous win came last October at Kansas.

Busch started from the pole and sought his 12th career Xfinity win at Phoenix. It appeared that he was headed toward that goal, leading a race-high 78 laps, but trailed off in the final 20 laps.

Not only did Jones pass him for the lead, last week’s winner at Fontana, Harrison Burton, also got past Busch and finished runner-up Saturday.

Still, it was some consolation that each of the top three drivers were Toyota drivers for Joe Gibbs Racing.

Brad Keselowski finished fourth, followed by Justin Haley, Chase Briscoe, Noah Gragson, Austin Cindric, Ross Chastain and Riley Herbst.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Justin Allgaier

STAGE 2 WINNER: Noah Gragson

RESULTS

DRIVER STANDINGS

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Harrison Burton is on a roll. After winning last week at Fontana, he roared back for a runner-up finish in Saturday’s race. He has scored a top-five finish in each of the season’s first four races. Burton also is atop the Xfinity driver standings after Saturday’s race.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Joe Nemechek had a scary moment with 72 laps to go when his brakes went out, causing Nemechek to hit the wall and sustain moderate damage to the right side of his car. Nemechek finished 32nd. … NASCAR met with Dillon Bassett, Brandon Brown and their crew chiefs for an altercation on pit road after the race. Bassett went to Brown’s car and reached into the car on pit road. The two had made contact on Lap 137 of the 200-lap race.

NOTABLE: This was the 500th win on the NASCAR national level for Toyota.

WHAT’S NEXT: EchoPark 250, Saturday March 14 at 4 p.m. ET, at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

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Harrison Burton wins first career Xfinity Series race

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Harrison Burton held off teammate Riley Herbst to win Saturday’s Xfinity Series race at Auto Club Speedway and claimed his first career win in the series in his 12th start.

The Joe Gibbs Racing driver led the final 19 laps under green and beat Herbst by less than half a second.

Burton, 19, is the son of former Cup driver and current NBC Sports analyst Jeff Burton. He victory comes after he went winless last year as a full-time driver at Kyle Busch Motorsports in the Truck Series.

“So proud of our guys,” Burton told FS1. “All we’ve heard is we can’t do it, we can’t do it. We’ll never do what last year’s 20 (Christopher Bell) did. We’re off to a good start. It’s awesome, it feels so good to win. There’s times when you go through a little bit of a drought, you just doubt yourself. To get a win it feels so good, especially after last year, we struggled a little bit. … Once we moved up to the top at the end it was going to be really hard for (Herbst) to pass us. Just trying to be smart and not put it in the wall while leading.”

The top five was completed by Austin Cindric, Ryan Sieg and Justin Haley.

Burton is the second first-time winner in the first three races of the season. Noah Gragson was the first in the season-opening race at Daytona.

Burton led 40 of the race’s 150 laps. After going caution free in the first two stages, there were six cautions in the final stage of the event.

STAGE 1 WINNER: Brandon Jones led every lap in the stage and won over Chase Briscoe

STAGE 2 WINNER: Brandon Jones led every lap in the stage and won over Daniel Hemric

More: Race results, point standings

WHO HAD A GOOD RACE: Justin Haley finished fifth after he spun from a flat right-rear tire as he tried to enter the pits on Lap 82. Haley’s tire was cut from contact with Anthony Alfredo … Alfredo finished sixth in his first career Xfinity start … Ryan Sieg earned his second straight top five. He has finished in the top 10 in all three races this year.

WHO HAD A BAD RACE: Brett Moffitt triggered a wreck that collected Michael Annett and Brandon Brown on a restart. Annett finished 17th and Brown finished 33rd … On a restart with 54 laps to go, Noah Gragson and Ross Chastain wrecked on the backstretch. Gragson had to check up as he bore down on Alfredo. That resulted in Gragson hitting Chastain and triggering the wreck. Gragson placed 26th and Chastain finished eighth … After leading 16 laps, Chase Briscoe finished 19th after he spun with 25 laps to go.

NOTABLE: Harrison Burton’s win came on Leap Day (Feb. 29). His uncle, Ward Burton, earned his first Xfinity win on Leap Day in 1992 at Rockingham … 20 Years, 2 Months, 12 Days is average age of the top-two finishers, third youngest top-two ever in the Xfinity.

WHAT’S NEXT: LS Tractor 200 at Phoenix Raceway at 4 p.m. ET March 7 on FS1

 

Four Cup, eight Xfinity teams will lose practice time at Auto Club

Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images
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NASCAR announced that four Cup teams and eight Xfinity teams will lose practice time Friday at Auto Club Speedway for inspection issues last week at Las Vegas.

In Cup, Chase Elliott‘s team will lose 15 minutes of practice in the final session for failing inspection twice last weekend. The cars of Michael McDowell and JJ Yeley will lose 15 minutes each in the final practice session for being late to inspection. Also, the car of Garrett Smithley will lose 30 minutes of final practice for failing inspection three times.

Final Cup practice will be from 5:35 – 6:25 p.m. ET

In Xfinity, the cars of Ryan Sieg, Austin Hill, Stephen Leicht, Mike Harmon, Vinnie Miller and Josh Williams each will miss 15 minutes of first practice for being late to inspection. Also, the cars of Brandon Brown and Josh Bilicki each will miss 15 minutes of first practice for failing inspection twice.

First Xfinity practice will be 3:05 – 3:55 p.m. ET.

Ross Chastain fastest in lone Xfinity practice at Las Vegas

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Ross Chastain was fastest in the only Xfinity Series practice session of the weekend Friday at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

Chastain covered the 1.5-mile oval with a speed of 176.881 mph, best of the 33 cars that took to the track.

Chastain is entered in all three races this weekend: he competed in Friday night’s Truck race, will be in Saturday’s Xfinity race and will replace the injured Ryan Newman in Sunday’s Pennzoil 400 NASCAR Cup race.

Second through fifth fastest were Brandon Brown (176.719 mph), Chase Briscoe (176.673), Brandon Jones (176.650) and Justin Allgaier (176.206).

Sixth through 10th were Austin Cindric (176.154 mph), Daytona winner Noah Gragson (176.028), Daniel Hemric (175.970), Justin Haley (175.547) and Harrison Burton (175.296).

There was one incident of note in the 81-minute and only Xfinity practice session of the weekend.

Myatt Snider got loose about 35 minutes into the session. While he stayed off the wall, he tore up a good chunk of infield grass, causing significant body and suspension damage.

Snider took his car to the garage and moved into his back-up ride.

Saturday will see Xfinity qualifying early in the afternoon, followed a few hours later by the Boyd Gaming 300 race.

Xfinity practice results

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